No singing, no dancing and masks at “all times” – these are some of the measures unveiled by the organisers of the Tokyo Olympics as part of a COVID-19 plan seeking to ensure the event goes ahead in a safe way.
The roll-out of the first of a series of “playbooks” on Wednesday was aimed at assuring athletes and sports officials, and an attempt to convince the Japanese public that the Olympics should not be postponed again.
Opinion polls across the country show up to 80 percent want the games – which are scheduled for July – postponed or cancelled, despite Japan having controlled the pandemic better than most countries. It has fewer than 6,000 deaths, but a recent surge in cases forced it to close its borders to non-resident foreigners and declare a state of emergency in some parts of the country.
“There are indeed a lot of questions in the public domain about how the games will take place this summer. And today is a preliminary review of how things will be done,” Olympic Games executive director Christophe Dubi said in a video news conference with Tokyo officials.
The playbook introduced on Wednesday is aimed at international sports federations and technical officials, with guides for athletes, broadcasters and the media set to come in the next few days.
The 32-page document deals with hygiene, testing, immigration and states that officials will be allowed to skip quarantine as long as they monitor their health for 14 days after arriving in Japan.
It bans singing and chanting during events and mandates participants to wear masks at “all times” except when eating, sleeping or outdoors.
It also requires delegations and staff to appoint a COVID-19 liaison officer, who will be responsible for ensuring the participants follow the guidelines, and advises against shopping at the airport upon arrival in Japan.
Rule breakers will face “consequences that may have an impact on participation” at the games, the guide warned, with “repeated or serious failures” potentially leading to offenders being kicked out.
The rules are set to be updated in April and again in June.
Pierre Ducrey, the director of Olympic Games Operations at the International Olympic Committee (IOC), told Wednesday’s joint press briefing that the event would be a “different experience”.
“There will be a number of constraints and conditions that the participants will have to respect and follow, which will have an impact on their experience, particularly when it comes to social aspects,” he said.
While details on rules for athletes are still being finalised, officials said they would be tested for COVID-19 at least every four days – in addition to being tested before leaving their country and again on arrival in Japan. A decision on the number of overall spectators that would be allowed at the events will be made by spring, they added.
The playbook roll-out comes two weeks after a British newspaper, citing an unnamed Japanese government official, said the Olympics would be cancelled. The IOC and Japanese organisers have pushed back for two weeks, and the playbooks offer some concrete plans after months of vague talks.
“No matter what situation would be with the coronavirus, we will hold the games,” Yoshiro Mori, the president of the Tokyo organising committee and former Japanese prime minister, told legislators on Tuesday. “We should pass on the discussion of whether we will hold the games or not, but instead discuss how we should hold it.”
Olympic officials have documented thousands of sports events that have taken place in the past 10 months – some with fans, some without – and they believe they can do the same on an Olympic scale at dozens of venues spread across a Tokyo metropolitan area of about 35 million people.
“Sports events are taking place, athletes are training and competing, but we know that we are facing a huge challenge – that is to create a bubble for all athletes,” Lucia Montanerella, head of IOC media operations, told a panel discussion a week ago.
“One thing is to create a bubble for 200 athletes, and a very different thing is to create a bubble for thousands of athletes of different sports.”
The IOC has said 60 percent of the qualification spots for Tokyo are filled. Of the remaining 40 percent, 15 percent will be filled by rankings, as in tennis and golf, and the remaining 25 percent will come from test events, if they can be held.
The IOC and the Japanese government will not require “participants” to be vaccinated to enter the country. Vaccination will be voluntary, and the IOC says it will hold the games as if no vaccine were available and rely on physical distancing, masks and testing.
Japan’s government approved a monthlong extension of its state of emergency on Tuesday, with measures now running through March 7 in parts of the country.
Tighter border restrictions imposed after infections surged have already forced the postponement of some sporting fixtures in Japan, including this year’s first Olympic test event, an artistic swimming qualifier that was scheduled for March.
The nationwide Olympic torch relay is due to begin on March 25.